10 Experiences to be Thankful for- Backpacking Southeast Asia

by Ally Stevens

This Savvi blog post is featured from Ally's blog SpreadSomeSun.  Ally just returned from an enlightening tour through beautiful SE Asia. We think she is Savvi, and we think you will too.

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The holidays- what a joyous and lovely time of year! I couldn't have planned (without even knowing) a better time to come back from Asia. It goes without saying that, of course, I'm sad to end my trip, but I am so grateful to be able to look back and really appreciate some of the most incredible experiences of my life that transpired during those 8 weeks. After decompressing, unpacking, adjusting to EST, and stuffing my face with mashed potatoes and pie, I took some time to compile 10 experiences that I am thankful for and I wanted to share them with you all! While my 2016 backpacking trip around Asia is over, I'm already anxiously anticipating my next adventure in 2017. Stay tuned!!

#10- Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Vietnam- and for good reason! We took a 2-day, 1-night boat voyage ($80 a person, booked through Cat Ba Central Hostel) from Cat Ba Island, through Lan Ha Bay and Halong Bay. We stopped and kayaking for about an hour or so through a breathtaking cove on Halong Bay. This was definitely one of the most beautiful destinations of our trip.

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#9- Practicing Yoga in Ubud, Indonesia

Ubud is one of the yoga capitals of the world, a hub for yogis near and far! Many come to participate in yoga retreats, while others, like us, come to get a taste of what the yoga culture is all about. We were able to take two yoga classes while we were there, a community yoga class at Yoga Barn (fo free!/community night) and a Vinyasa class at Radiantly Alive Yoga (120 RP/$9). Both classes were totally different and special in their own ways.

#8- Visiting an Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand

When visiting Chiang Mai, it's basically a requirement to go to some sort of elephant sanctuary. After doing some research, we chose to spend the day at Elephant Nature Park. We chose ENP because this facility rescues and rehabilitates mistreated animals in need, not only elephants, but dogs, cats, and buffaloes. ENP is largely run by volunteers, so the fee that we pay to spend the day at the park is used for food and other resources for the animals. We were able to have several interactions throughout the day with these animals and learn about each specific elephant and the reason why they are there.
*** It is very important to do research about elephant parks. Elephant abuse is a HUGE problem in Asia and elsewhere, through many different faucets, including but not limited to the logging industry and TOURISM. Please make sure to go to a place where they don't ride the elephants or make these beautiful creatures do tricks or put on shows. I can feel the treehugger/vegetarian/earth-lover bursting out of me. You get the point. Asian elephants are endangered and it is our job to #savetheelephants. ***

#7- Visiting the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia

I had never stepped foot inside a temple until I went to Asia. I was totally blown away. Specifically, I had no idea the enormity of the Temples of Angkor until arriving at the site. A truly indescribable experience, but you can read my attempt at describing it in my previous blog post: Visiting the Temples of Angkor.

#6- Taking a Cooking Class in Chiang Mai, Thailand

One of the most hilarious, non-consequential mistakes we made during the trip was drinking the night before taking a 4-hour long cooking class. Although it made our stomachs a little weaker, it made getting screamed at by a sweet Thai chef to "stir faster" all the more amusing. We had an amazing morning at Morning Glory Thai Vegetarian Restaurant and Home Cookery (1,200 baht/$35) learning how to whip up some scrumptious Thai cuisine. 

#5- Scuba Diving in Gili Trawagen, Indonesia

Scuba diving has been on my bucket list for years now, but until now I haven't been able to actually take the plunge, literally ;). Surprisingly, scuba diving was scarier and more intense than I had anticipated, but I'm so happy we swallowed our fear and went for it. We did a two hour pool session then an hour dive in "Turtle Heaven" through Dive Central Gili for 900,000 RP~ $70. Truth be told, we saw multiple sea turtles- straight out of Finding Nemo! If we had been able to stay longer, therefore having time for a few more dives, I totally would have gotten my PADI certification (which would allow me to dive internationally). There's always next time!

#4- Swimming in Kuang Si Falls in Luang Prabang, Laos

It's always the unexpected spots and unplanned days that leave you with the most grace in your heart. After a few super long, frantic days of traveling, we visited Kuang Si Falls (admission=20,000 Kip~$2.50). It made me realize even more that to me, the natural attractions are the most incredible. Although the time we spent in Laos was brief, I think we took advantage of every day we had there.

#3- Caving in Phong Nha, Vietnam

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a beautiful park nestled in the Vietnamese countryside. It wound up being a perfect stop in between two of the major cities we wanted to visit in Vietnam, so going there wasn't necessarily in our original agenda. To reiterate what I just said about the falls in Laos, unexpected stops have continued to be our greatest stops of all. This national park is home to a massive caving system. It's actually home to We went to Phong Nha Cave and Hang Toi (The Dark Cave) where we were introduced to some awesome stalactites and stalagmites. In order to go into Hang Toi, you have to zipline down to the water, swim into the enclosure, and hike through the slippery, muddy depths of the cave. Word to the wise, I wouldn't suggest venturing into a cave if you're claustrophobic. 

#2- Hiking Down the Rice Terraces of Hau Tau, Vietnam

If you read my blog post about my experience at a Vietnamese homestay, you know how unforgettable my time spent in the Northern Highlands of Vietnam was. Part of this experience included our host Mai taking us on a trek through the beautiful rice terraces. We learned about the labor and dedication it takes to maintain the terraces, while we soaked up the breathtaking landscapes of the mountains towering from above.

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#1- Traveling Thousands of Miles with 2 of My Greatest Friends

It goes without saying that Kelly and Chrissy have made this trip everything it was and more. If you want to travel and have a friend to do it with, say no more! Everything else will fall into place if you have a friend by your side- I'm SO incredibly lucky to have had these two by mine.

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